It was last summer that I started noticing mom wasn’t herself.
“Something’s wrong with mom,” I told my brother Brad.
“What do you mean?”
“Something’s up, maybe she’s in another drug psychosis, because she’s got issues.”
Brian and I had gone to Florida with mom and Pete, our stepdad, to their house there. She had a problem then and got put on steroids. It just wreaked havoc with her. One thing led to another and she started overdoing, overtaking, and overdosing everything. It wasn’t exactly anything new. She went into a psychosis. We got her out of the hospital in Florida. We had to detox her and fly her back home.
“Mom, you have to go back to the hospital,” I told her getting off the plane in Cleveland.
“I’m not going back to the hospital, Jay,” she said.
“Yes, you are. You’re not done. There’s something seriously wrong. You have to go back and finish.”
“If you think I’m going back to the hospital, I’m not. I’m healthy.”
She was mad as a hornet and called me everything but a white woman. “If you think this is fun for me, you are seriously mistaken,” I said.
“Fuck off, Jay,” she said.
“Maybe later, mom, but right now, I’ve got to get you to a hospital.”
Even though she was pissed, we got her there. Afterwards things got better, even though she wasn’t sleeping well at night. Then she fell and broke her spine. They told her she needed surgery.
“I don’t want to,” she said. “I’m going to go on pain management instead.”
“Oh, great,” I said to my brother. “She’s going to take more drugs.” Her house was already like a pharmacy.
But, within a week she couldn’t walk. She had to have surgery because of the way her vertebra broke. It was poking into a nerve. After the surgery she seemed better, but she was high all the time. She would take an OxyContin and then a couple of Percosets and be high as a kite. My mom was 78 and she was tripping. She took drugs most of her life. It started when she became a nurse. It was about going to the doctor, getting drugs, then seeing more doctors, and getting more drugs.
I started noticing after she started getting better that she wasn’t being herself. At first, we thought she had a urinary tract infection, like it was being one thing after another. That’s why we thought she was looking, sounding, and acting crazy. But the doctor ruled out a urinary tract infection.
“I just have a flu,” said my mom.
“Maybe it’s the drugs,” said Pete. “She hasn’t taken any narcotics in three weeks.”
“Why isn’t she taking her drugs?” I asked. “She’s a major hypochondriac. I mean, she lives to take drugs.”
All of a sudden, a woman who lived to take drugs wouldn’t take a single pill. She wouldn’t take her thyroid medication or her asthma medicine.
“You have to take these,” I said.
“You’re not a nurse,” she said.
“Take your medicine.”
On top of everything she was diabetic and wouldn’t take her insulin. “Don’t you think it’s time to measure her sugar?” Pete asked me.
“She doesn’t seem to have any idea,” I said. “It’s like she doesn’t know she needs insulin.”
We took her back to the doctor’s office. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He said she might have had some mini-strokes, too, which he was going to have to test for. When we got her to take her medicine, she would only take them from me. I had to put them in applesauce and feed it to her like that. She wouldn’t take any from Pete or my brother Brad. My brother is like my dad and that makes her mad. She never liked my dad.
“Do want supper, mom?”
“No, I already ate some” she will say, even though she hasn’t. You have to live in her world. There’s no more reasoning with her. You have to take all reasoning out of the conversation.
Suppose she wants to have her hair brushed? You learn to use little white lies and trade-offs. “You take your medicine, mom, and I’ll brush your hair.” t’s hard to watch. It’s like seeing your mom revert back to childhood. I’ve started doing art projects with her, just to keep her mind occupied.
My brother helps a little, but my stepdad and I take care of her. My sister Patty, who hasn’t talked to me in more than seven years, lives in a podunk town somewhere in Maine. No one even knows the name of the town. My other sister, Betsy, has a hard time with it. It makes her sad, even though she and my mom never got along. She can’t deal with it and just stays away.
I go to my mom’s house on Mondays and Fridays. I give her a bath every Monday. Fridays are usually her bad day. Home health care comes in five days a week and makes sure she takes her medicines. She’ll take them from a stranger, although not always. One Thursday she slept for more than fourteen hours and on Friday morning still didn’t want to get up.
“I don’t want to,” she said.
“But why mom?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t want to get you upset, but Tiffany’s going to be here tomorrow to give you your medicine. Do you remember Tiffany?”
“I don’t forget, Jay. The doctor says I don’t. I was just there.”
“OK, that’s what he said?”
“He says I don’t have a memory problem at all.”
“Mom, that’s great,” I said. “I’m glad you don’t have a memory problem,”
“She can come here, but I won’t get out of bed.”
“I can guarantee you she will be back. You be nice.”
“Oh, I’m nice. I’m just not going to get up.”
“That’s not being nice.”
“I know what’s nice and not nice.”
There are some things she just knows. She doesn’t know, but she knows.